Let’s talk for a moment about togetherness. This concept is everything to us and woven into everything we do – bringing people together for events and experiences, and collaborating together with our clients and partners. Togetherness is both what we do, and why we do it.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve heard, “We’re all in this together” more often than we used to hear, “Flight attendants, prepare for take-off” in the good old days, and there are various arguments we could make for and against that platitude. It sounds great, and we want it to be true, but this pandemic, like many things, has been more devastating to the most vulnerable and most oppressed among us, a fact that shouldn’t be glossed over with nice-sounding clichés. There’s so much effortful, honest work yet to be done to achieve real, lasting equality; 2020 made that apparent in more than one way.

But in the truest sense of the word, we believe in togetherness, and we believe it’s worth striving for. One of the best ways we have always found to lean into that belief from a professional standpoint is through our industry associations. Far more to us than a formality or an obligation, these organizations are a real and vibrant way for us to connect with peers, start important conversations, push boundaries, and form support systems. We need one another, and we are always better off as one. 

A great recent example of this is the ILEA Diversity Pledge. By creating this initiative, ILEA is creating a platform for conversation, but even better, for action. 

“‘One’ is part of our name and, more than that, part of our culture,” says Dustin Westling, our Managing Partner. “We truly believe that we as people and we as an industry are not just better off, but meant to be both more diverse and more equal – we’re so much stronger as a vibrant, kaleidoscopic one.”

It’s this ethos of one-ness that drives us to take – and commit to – the ILEA Diversity Pledge, and to remain so involved in our industry associations. During this especially isolating time, these associations and their members have stepped up to the plate in big ways. 

“I’ve seen people be there for each other more on an emotional level,” says Renée Pittet, our Director of Business Development, and Director of Alberta Relations for PCMA Canada West. “People who might not have had the time before are taking the time now to communicate and be mindful of how others are doing.”

Amanda Bazant, our Assistant Project Manager, is VP Finance & President Elect of ILEA Calgary’s Board of Directors. 

“During these hard times,” Amanda shares, “someone was always posting something, whether it was in regards to available funding, support, or mental health support. In general, the community has grown stronger because we are all in this difficult time together.”

That togetherness extends past our city, as Jennifer Thacker, our Sr. Project Manager, and President of MPI Greater Calgary Chapter, points out.

“I’ve seen associations working together more locally, and across Canada,” she says.

While it may seem counterintuitive to join these associations right now, we’d argue that now is actually the time we need them most, both as professionals and as people.

“It’s about the community working together and supporting each other,” Jen offers. “Our industry has changed, and as we start to come out of this, working together and supporting local vendors is going to become very important to bring our industry back.”

Each association has gone above and beyond to offer countless resources for members during this time, from ILEA’s extensive offering of webinars and online mingles, to MPI’s Happy Hugger program that encourages checking in with other members regularly, to PCMA’s increased number of educational scholarships for members.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to know is that what really makes these associations work for you is when you actively engage with what they offer.

“Join a committee, join the Board, attend the virtual events,” says Renée. “The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”

“BE PRESENT!” Amanda echoes. “Follow [ILEA] on social, connect with the board or your Board Buddy, attend our virtual events, respond to surveys, provide questions prior to events, and speak up.”

To sum it up, if you’re going to make a difference in your association, your industry, or your community, Jen says, “you need to be involved.” 

So while this pandemic has been at times polarizing, and the experience has perhaps separated us in more ways than we care to admit, there’s no time like right now to start focusing on togetherness. It starts here, with each of us. And in the midst of all the hardship, there have been ways to connect beyond what we expected, and to learn lessons we probably would have otherwise missed out on.

“I have met so many more people through the virtual events than I would have in person,” Renée points out. “PCMA WEST extends from BC to Saskatchewan; I would not have had the opportunity to make these new connections otherwise, or gotten to know my Board members as well.” 

Jen admits, “I’ve learned that balance and self-care is very important – that’s something I only did when I ‘had time’ for before COVID. I’m learning it’s ok to not be busy all the time.”

“Even though this past year was horrible,” Amanda shares, “I will always be thankful for the memories and skills that I gained, as well as the amazing friendships that came out of it. I have learned the importance of personal growth, mental health, patience, and adaptation, as well as the importance of listening first. I know these newly acquired pillars of myself will assist me in my future with ILEA as I move into the President role of the Calgary Chapter.”

As always, we’d love to hear your take! What do you think associations are doing right during this time, or on the flip side, where do you think our industry support systems are falling short? How have you found the resources you need? And most importantly, what have you done or what would you like to see as we continue to push toward more inclusion and diversity?